Aug 262003
Authors: Ben Bleckley

Tonight, the planet Mars will be closer to Earth than it has been in 60,000 years.

“Mars gets close to the Earth about every 26 months,” said Roger Culver, a CSU professor of astronomy.

This particular passing is significant, however, due to Mars’ elliptical orbit.

“This distance (between Earth and Mars) can vary from as much as 62 million miles down to a minimum of 34.5 million miles,” Culver said. “And that (latter distance) is what’s happening this week.”

This close encounter gives scientists some unique opportunities.

“In terms of space probes, there are at least three I’m aware of that are on the way to Mars,” Culver said. They are expected to arrive at the beginning of 2004.

Furthermore, scientists and amateurs alike will be able to view Mars close up.

“Any kind of an instrument above binocular level will display or exhibit some of Mars’ features,” Culver said.

Some students have already taken this opportunity to view our closest planetary neighbor in detail.

“You can actually see it pretty well with just binoculars even now,” said Casey Murphy, a senior accounting finance major. “We did it up in Walden, (Colorado) and we could see it really, really well.”

For those who plan on viewing the planet, Culver said it rises shortly after sunset in the southeast.

“It’s almost like a landing light on an airplane, it’s that bright,” he said.

The Madison McDonald Observatory will be open tonight and Thursday night from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. for those who would like to attend, as long as there are clear skies. The observatory is located on East Drive just south of the Natural and Environmental Sciences Building and north of the Insectary.

Renee Daniels, a junior marketing major, has plans to view the spectacle “with somebody we know who has a telescope that lives just west of Horsetooth.”

As for astrological predictions, Culver denies expertise.

“That you’d have to talk to my wife about,” Culver said. “She’s the one that does the astrological stuff. And I’m sure there’s some significance.”

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